Indian Boarding School: 1891-1911

Fort Lewis was deactivated and turned over to the Secretary of the Interior for an Indian School.


After Lewis Morgan was named Superintendent, the school opened with 51 children enrolled.  Tribes represented Navajo, Ute, Sioux and Apache.

The boarding school taught grades kindergarten through 6th grade.  In addition to teaching the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, its mission was an industrial training school (agriculture, home economics, carpentry).

The children were assimilated and trained to accept the culture of America.  The use of Indian names and wearing of native attire were discouraged.  Therefore students took names of notable American leaders (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, etc.)

The old military hospital was converted to a girls dormitory.


C.C. Duncan, United States Indian Inspector, reported that 65 acres was being cultivated by the school.  During the year it produced 18 tons of oat hay, 17,350 pounds of potatoes, 200 pounds of turnips, 2973 pounds of onions, 240 pounds of beans and 2700 pounds of other vegetables.  The school also owned 7 horses, 4 swine, and 36 domestic fowl.


Thomas Breen was named Superintendent in 1894 and served until August 1903.  Dr. Breen ran the school much like a military post.  The members dressed in uniforms and performed military drill and parade every Sunday.


In January 1895, Breen's report showed an enrollment of 146 boys and 37 girls.

Each year the best students from the top four grades were sent to the Carlisle Institute in Pennsylvania. The best known of all the Indian schools.


Fire destroyed superintendents residence


300 students enrolled.  School is at capacity.


The U.S. Indian Inspector's report indicates that the school reached its peak enrollment of 345 students.  Two hundred acres were under cultivation and all but 15 of those were irrigated.  Most of the buildings inherited from the military fort were in very poor condition and presented a huge fire danger because stoves and oil lamps were used for heat and light.


William Peterson became Superintendent after Dr. Breen was forced to resign because of illness.

According to records, the school owned "8 horses, 1 mare, 1 pony, 44 cattle, 38 calves, 2 bulls and 6 good pigs."  The cattle were branded with I.D.F.L. indicating ownership by the Department of Interior and Fort Lewis School.

The government began to rethink the concept of Indian boarding schools.  Because of the children's isolated immune systems, disease had ravaged many of the schools across the United States.  Fort Lewis had a few serious outbreaks and was able to procure a physician on staff. 

The government's new idea was to support reservation-based schools.  One of these schools was built in Ignacio, CO  for the Ute tribe.  After that the number of students enrolled at Fort Lewis dropped to 127.


A predominately Navajo population attended Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School.   Records show 174 students in attendance and only 17 of them were not full-blooded Indians.


John Spear named Superintendent.

More reservation schools were being opened and attendance at Fort Lewis continued to decline.  Numbers reached as low as 40 students in 1909.


Congress offered the property to Colorado, provided the facility would be maintained as an institution of learning.  The Act was approved April 4, 1910 and included the following: (36 State.273)

There is hereby granted to the State of Colorado, upon the terms and conditions hereinafter named, the property known as the Fort Lewis School, including the land, building, and fixtures pertaining to said school:  Provided, That said lands and buildings shall be held and maintained by the State of Colorado as an institution of learning, and that Indian pupils shall at all times be admitted to such school free of charge for tuition and on terms of equality with white pupils..........

The focus of the school would change to a high school that would emphasize agricultural and mechanical arts and be placed under the control of the State Board of Agriculture and the State Agriculture College.